There was an electric feel inside Whalen Gymnasium on Friday night.
It started on the floor and reverberated throughout the building full of 1,125 fans during a non-conference game for the Fort Lewis College men’s basketball team against NAIA foe Northern New Mexico.
Behind the highlight reel play of Riley Farris, Danny Garrick and Akuel Kot, the Skyhawks raced out to a 20-point lead in the first half at 33-13. Northern New Mexico would keep it respectable and trailed only 48-35 at halftime thanks to 12 first-half turnovers from FLC, but the Eagles had no match for the depth and precision of a Skyhawks team that shot 60.6% in the first half, including 8-of-14 from 3-point range.
The second half offered much of the same, as FLC cruised to a 92-69 victory to improve to 3-0 this season.
“There was so much energy in the building,” Farris said. “As soon as we got acclimated, we got going and looked like a top-25 team out there.”
At the end of the first half Fort Lewis leads Northern New Mexico College 48-35! Check out this monster ally-oop From Molina to Wittman! #ifyouarentheregethere #GoHawks #LetsSoar #TalonsUp pic.twitter.com/0XpGJn3eNx— Fort Lewis Skyhawks (@FLCSkyhawks) November 16, 2019
FLC benefited by having starting point guard Logan Hokanson available. He was questionable with a wrist injury, but he started the game after going through pregame warmups. He gave FLC head coach Bob Pietrack a thumbs up after making a 3 during warmups and was inserted in the starting lineup. In the opening minute of the game, he hit a left-handed teardrop that had the entire FLC bench into the game.
“We are still learning Logan as a transfer player in our program, and we were extremely proud of him,” Pietrack said. “We truly did not think he was going to play today. We shot around earlier, and he couldn’t even shoot. The fact he was able to give us 23 unselfish minutes when he couldn’t play his best but knew the team needed him to handle the ball, it was a gutty effort from him.”
Between the red-hot shooting of Kot, who opened with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting, including 2-of-2 from 3, as well as that of Garrick, who was 3-of-6 from 3, FLC was cooking from deep. Paired with the inside play of Farris and an alley-oop dunk lobbed up from the top of the 3-point arch from Cesar Molina to a cutting Will Wittman, and a packed FLC crowd had plenty to be excited about in the opening 20 minutes.
Farris and Kot each finished with 23 points. Garrick added 14 while Wittman had 10 and Cesar Molina added nine. Farris had a double-double, as he also grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds.
“There was a 12-minute stretch where we were as good as any Division II team could be,” Pietrack said. “We were really focused and good. The disappointing part was that we couldn’t continue that. We didn’t have a good week of practice because we were banged up and had a short week after playing last Sunday.”
Northern New Mexico (1-7) would get within single digits at 50-41 early in the second half. But Garrick hit a 3 to restore the lead to double digits.
“It’s so awesome to have a weapon like that,” Farris said of Garrick. “Honestly, we haven’t had a guy like that since Josh Blaylock who could pull up and hit big shots like that.”
Pietrack called a timeout after the Garrick 3 to urge on his team to play better defensively. He still wasn’t pleased with his team’s defense at the end of the game, but the Skyhawks got the job done.
“I need to get down and guard better,” Farris said. “I need to do better by my team. For me, focusing on defense is the key tomorrow.”
FLC would go on a 10-4 run to establish a 60-45 lead. Northern New Mexico again got within 10 at 62-52, but a technical foul on Tyrique Weaver of the Eagles helped FLC stretch its advantage to 65-52 with 13:13 to go.
As whistles became few and far between down the stretch, FLC was able to maintain a solid lead of 15. When Kot checked in with 7:30 left to play, that lead grew above 20 points again. He recorded his first 20-point game at the foul line to make it 83-62 with 5:17 to play, as he scored seven points in 2:30 of game clock to help FLC put the game away.
“We wanted to put them away, so I was being aggressive,” Kot said. “It feels real good. When you work hard and hope and pray for moments like this, to get it done feels great.”
Estevan Martinez scored 19 points to lead the Eagles, and he grabbed seven rebounds. Alexander O’Guinn added 18 points.
The Skyhawks will be back at home at 7:30 p.m. Saturday against another NAIA foe in Embry-Riddle University out of Arizona. At 5:30 p.m., Adams State will face Northern New Mexico. It will be the final day of the Fort Lewis College Skyhawks Classic.
Embry-Riddle was up as much as 14 on Adams State before the Grizzlies answered back to win 79-73 on Friday.
“I understand these teams are NAIA, but it’s college basketball and there are no free games,” Pietrack said. “Every game is very hard. There are kids on scholarship and they take pride in their programs, and we are going to need a great effort tomorrow.”